In the picture

Bran Nue Dae

Directed by Rachel Perkins

Rated PG

The stage show of Bran Nu Dae was written by Jimmy Chi with his band Kuckles and was first performed 20 years ago. From humble beginnings it went on to become a smash hit all over the country. But having never seen it, I didn’t really know what to expect when I entered the cinema. I knew it was set in Broome (one of my favourite places in the world), featured a top cast of Australian actors and musicians and that it belonged to the rarest of genres in modern cinema: musical!

Bran Nu Dae is the story of Willie (Rocky McKenzie – a newcomer to the big screen who has the saddest brown puppy dog eyes I’ve ever seen) who is sent off to a Catholic boarding school in Perth because his mother wants him to become a priest.

But Willie just wants to hang out with his mates and go fishing, and to win the love of his special girl Rosie (Jessica Mauboy).

When he takes the rap for stealing some chocolate from the school canteen, he ends up on the street and is befriended by a bunch of homeless alcoholic blackfellas. Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo) hasn’t been home to Broome for 15 years and promises to help young Willy get there.

They meet a couple of hippies in a psychedelic Kombi (Tom Budge and Missy Higgins) and are pursued all the way by the overbearing priest Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush).

This is essentially a road trip movie with songs. I have no problem suspending belief when people suddenly burst into song, but parts of it rely on a kind of over-the-top characterisation and slapstick humour that seems very outdated. The music didn’t really move me, and the narrative was all very predictable.

There are some feel-good scenes along the way, like when Willie is picked up by a football team (played by members of the Bangarra Dance group), who paint up and dance to the theme music from Zorba the Greek.

Ernie Dingo shines as Uncle Tadpole and there are some good cameos from Magda Szubanski as a horny, gun-wielding shop owner and Deborah Mailman as, well, just as horny.

When all the characters catch up on the beach in Broome, family secrets that have been stashed away in the cupboard for years come tumbling out and there is much singing and dancing. Everybody is happy, but I didn’t leave the cinema feeling uplifted and the moral message about being true to yourself seemed a bit laboured.


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